CSNews Exclusive: Finding Success in C-store Foodservice

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CSNews Exclusive: Finding Success in C-store Foodservice

NEW YORK -- When it comes to foodservice, convenience store chains that decide to take the plunge need to make sure they are prepared and not only execute their concepts, but execute them well.

Dean Dirks, consultant with Dirks & Associates, spoke first during the Webinar, "Trends in Eating and Drinking -- High Touch, Some Touch or No Touch, Foodservice Is Key to Future of Convenience Retailing," discussing the options available with foodservice programs, and citing the 2009 Convenience Store News Foodservice Study, which reported 43 percent of all foodservice sales are Full Touch, meaning made-to-order.

"Full touch programs offer the opportunity for promotions, discounting and couponing," said Dirks, who urged retailers not to "learn their lessons the hard way," and jump right in. "The store you put a Full Touch program in has to have high customer counts," he said, noting it should also have ample parking for customers to accommodate the foodservice crowd.

While Some Touch requires less labor and may be better for some retailers, Full Touch is the trend for the future, Dirks explained. "Understand it's a higher investment, but there is also a higher return."

Providing an example of a completely Full Touch operation, Jerry Weiner, vice president of foodservice at Rutter's Farm Stores in York, Pa., spoke about the company's foodservice operations, which started with extensive customer research.

"Consumer research is how we started developing our new prototype," he said, noting this included customer intercepts and focus groups -- both with Rutter's customers and those who did not shop the stores. It was out of this research that the company determined what was most important -- clean stores, clean restrooms and a lot of choices for food. The stores offer subs, sandwiches, wraps, salads, burgers, stir frys, kids meals and more.

Additionally, the research showed "theater and speed as very important," Weiner said. As a result, the company created the foodservice counter with clear glass so customers could see their food being prepared from start to finish, and all menu items can be produced in four minutes or less, he noted.

The stores also offer touchscreen ordering, which makes the experience personal. "I'm amazed at what people put on a sandwich, and they can get creative and try things they maybe wouldn't at home," Weiner explained. "It also gives them a reason to come back more frequently because they can have a different product by mixing up the condiments or the cheese."

Not unlike food, choices are also driving the beverage category, and Rutter's responded with a 16-head fountain dispenser, featuring six frozen flavors, two flavor shots and two beverage enhancements.

"Customers mix it all together and they want those options," he said. The company also offers options with its coffee island, which features eight brewed options, including Rainforest 100-percent Columbian coffee and a Fair Trade Guatemalan coffee. There are also five types of cappuccino and three energy coffees.

Wrapping up the session, Grant Demers, product director at McLane Co. offered advice to retailers looking to develop a foodservice strategy. In order to develop a strategy, he stressed the importance of understanding the target market in order to identify what makes a retailer unique, and what a company can do to attract business in its area of operation.

Also when developing a foodservice strategy, he noted five areas of importance to keep in mind: Convenience, Quality, Safety, Value and Selection.

"McLane offers a Fresh On The Go program, which is fully integrated with its existing programs," Demers noted.

In terms of convenience, retailers should consider offering something for each day part, and making sure they have quality products and effective merchandising.

"Are the products on the shelves craveable? Consumers have come to expect quality and if you are not willing to provide it, someone else will," he said.

Demers also cautioned retailers to make sure safety is part of their operations, mentioning the number of FDA recalls in recent months. And spoke about value as a key attribute -- both to customers in the form of price and to retailers in the form of profits.

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